There There by Tommy Orange

17FDFE76-5F92-4255-8527-79ED037331A5Last week the National Book Award longlists came out, and There There made the cut. I already owned the book and had heard good things, but hadn’t actually taken the time prioritize it on my reading schedule. Then the list came out, and just like with Oscar nominees I felt like I just had to read the book so I could weigh in on all the conversations.

Here is more about this book

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.


This book is a fantastic work of storytelling, which makes sense because so much of the book is centered on the power of sharing one’s story. This theme of storytelling is woven throughout the book beautifully. In There There we meet characters who tell us their stories, and each character is different and well written and important to the narrative. So often in books that weave many perspectives together, there are characters that are flushed out and imperative to the action, and then other people who exists more for function (i.e. to have a different point of view or progress the plot), not here. Orange does a fantastic job of giving each character autonomy and purpose. His characters are not pure. They are full people both good and bad, pathetic and proud, complex and relatable. Human.

There There centers on Native voices. Not just Native Americans, but modern Native Americans living in a major urban landscape. This is not a story of a reservation or the wild wild west. The setting, Oakland, California gives the book a strong place and identity but also allows for movement and isolation and independence for the characters. We get to see the connectedness of the community, and how the characters cross paths in ways that feel both organic and truthful. I’m from Oakland, and I loved the way Orange talks about the neighborhoods and landmarks, it made me appreciate where I’m from a little more.

I’ve never read a book about Natives in a major cosmopolitan city and that alone made the book fell fresh and exciting and special. I can’t speak much to the authenticity of Orange’s depictions, I can say that I appreciated what I learned about the Native experience in Oakland. The characters in There There are dynamic and delightful, deeply pained and wildly hopeful. You’ll have your favorites for your own reasons. You won’t be able to help yourself. Orange never settles into any one feeling or moment for too long, giving his humans room to evolve as the book progresses.

I really loved this book. The pacing, the plot, and the suspense, are all so well done. Orange is able to tap into so much humanity while still driving a plot forward. I often find books are either all about characters or all about plot, and this book melds the two beautifully. I think this is a wonderful (and quick) read. It is Orange’s debut, I am so looking forward to see what comes next from this creative talent.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 5, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy There There on Amazon

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Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

4387B5FD-4304-4C6C-AE33-3F41ACB0136CA few years ago, I fell in love with reading books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the most respected journalists of that subject is Sebastian Junger. He helped to create the film Restrepo which I love, and write the book War which is really good. When I saw that he wrote another book about the struggles that face our veterans when they return home, I couldn’t resist it.

If you’re not familiar with Tribehere is a little more about this book.

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

I thought this book would be about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I thought it would be stories of individual soldiers and their journeys through PTSD and how they did or didn’t find community. That is not what this book is at all. It is more of an essay on how we need to rethink our social obligations to one another. How important having a “tribe” is. And that these tribes, weather they be neighborhood or nation, help to keep humans mentally healthy.

Junger weaves in a lot of context of the power of tribe through discussing American Indian tribes (as well as other cultures more generally) and how they treat one another. How they work and live together, what things are needed to succeed, and what transgressions can not be tolerated. It is all interesting and gave me a lot to think about. He compares these tribes with American society, where they differ, and how these differences can be devastating on human survival. The book is less about the military than I thought it would be, and that was a welcome surprise. Junger is drawing larger conclusions about American society as a whole, and then connects those overreaching ideas with the military.

For the most part the book is thought provoking and well done. I loved hearing alternative theories about PTSD and more. He makes great points and really shifted my thinking about mental health. I did listen to Tribe on audiobook, and I think that Junger’s tone negatively colored my understanding of the book. Junger can be condescending. He presents his theories as fact and doesn’t leave room for any push back. He can be a little harsh. The book is short, he doesn’t give much credence to any alternative opinions.

I think this book is interesting, I know that I look at society, soldiers, and how we can do better as a people, differently thanks to Junger. I think if you’re interested in sociology and human behavior this book would make a great fit.

  • Harcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (May 24, 2016)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tribe on Amazon
  • Listen to Tribe on Audible (for free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.